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Care at Stewart hospital critiqued
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A “tiger team” was on Fort Stewart Wednesday just one day after the Army announced a plan to study outpatient care and make sure the poor conditions found at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are not the norm.
“It’s premature to make any comments about what we’ve found here and at other places,” said Col. Bernard DeKoning, the Army’s assistant surgeon general for force protection.
DeKoning, formerly the 3rd Infantry Division surgeon, is a family physician. He heads the 11-member team of experts, military and civilians, which will specifically assess the care of medical holds and medical holdovers at Winn Army Community Hospital.
“We’re here to assess four focus areas,” he said, “Outpatient soldier care, building and living conditions, medical administrative procedures; and the communication between soldiers and their families and hospital officials.”
Fort Stewart made the list because of the high concentration of troops and specifically the number of soldiers on medical hold and medical holdovers.
He said a medical hold is when active duty soldiers are awaiting additional treatment or processing by a medical examination board. Medical holdovers are for National Guard members and reservists who are awaiting treatment or further medical board processing.
Fort Stewart has 29 soldiers on medical hold and 55 on medical holdover, DeKoning said, noting the numbers change everyday.
“There’s nothing unusual about the numbers here at Fort Stewart,” he said.
One aspect of the inspection, guided by a checklist of strict standards, is a sensing session with soldiers, medical personnel and family members. Infrastructure, patient record keeping was also evaluated, and issues such as the shortage of doctors would be reviewed as well.
While Walter Reed is the center of harsh realities in military healthcare, Fort Stewart was criticized for housing National Guard and reserve medical holdovers in substandard and unsanitary facilities in 2003.
Hundreds of injured or sick soldiers who served in Iraq were held in medical holdover units for months, taxing on-base housing and its overburdened health-care system. The response was rapid at the height of the controversy. A new clinic was opened, appointment times were accelerated and soldiers were moved to quality housing.
Wednesday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, (R-Ga), challenged Army officials to explain why they failed to learn lessons from Fort Stewart three years ago.  
“This is not the first time this has happened. It concerns me greatly and it should concern all of you that we have seen this problem before and, apparently, we didn’t learn from it enough to stay ahead of the issue,” he said.
Winn Army Hospital Commander Col. Scott Goodrich said the facility has no major deficiencies.
“That incident gave us a chance to improve, and we have really improved,” he said.
DeKoning knew of no requests or cries for help from Fort Stewart’s Winn Army Hospital and said the standards have not changed, and as far as he knows prior problems have been corrected at the base.
“We’re looking for opportunities for improvement, we want to get it right,” DeKoning said. “We want to make sure we’re doing the right things and make sure we do things to improve.”
Fort Stewart was the Tiger Team’s third stop after visits to medical treatment facilities at Fort Bragg, N.C. and Fort Gordon in Augusta. DeKoning said the team was rapidly put together March 1.
After spending a day and a half at each installation, the team has to deliver an interim report of 11 bases in seven states to top Army brass by the end of the month, he said.

Also to be checked:
Other Army medical treatment facilities scheduled for Tiger Team visits
Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, Fort Hood
Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston
William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Fort Bliss
Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Ken.
Ireland Army Community Hospital at Fort Knox, Ken.
Guthrie Ambulatory Health Care Clinic, Fort Drum, NY
Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis, Washington

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